Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Most Nepalis depend on agriculture for their main subsistence and as a source of cash. In the northern, mountainous regions of the country the Sherpa, Manangi, and others practice high-altitude agriculture. Their main crops are barley, wheat, buck-wheat, and maize, along with potatoes—and, recently, squash—grown as vegetables. In these areas there is only one growing season, so that supplemental resources from trade, herding, and wage labor are needed. In the midland and southern regions of the country, the land has been terraced for generations, so that people are able to grow irrigated rice during the monsoon and dry rice, maize, millet, and wheat on more elevated dry land both in the summer and during the winter. They intercrop their fields with soybeans and chilies, and they have gardens of cauliflower, squash, turnips, and greens. Herding animals is an important and common economic activity in northern, Tibetan-oriented regions where people keep yaks, cows, and crossbreeds for butter, cheese, and meat. They also use ponies, sheep, and yaks as pack animals in their long-distance trading. In slightly lower elevations groups such as the Magar have a transhumant economy, and so they move seasonally between elevations for farming and herding. Most people in Nepal keep buffalo, goats, or cows for milk and buffalo or goats for meat, and, if the people are not orthodox Hindus, also pigs and chickens.
Industrial Arts. Most Tibetan-oriented peoples weave cloth and make sturdy and colorful clothes, bags, and carpets. Their carpets have become a desirable market item world-wide. Other groups such as the Gurung and Magar also weave cloth and rugs, but, as with most people today, they purchase commercial cloth, jewelry, and cooking utensils in markets. Most people build their own houses and many carve wooden containers for holding butter and yogurt. Also, most villages have artisan castes such as metalworkers and tailors. As the size of the settlement increases, other occupational castes such as barbers, butchers, potters, and launderers are found. Artisan specialization attained a high level of development among the Newars during the Malla period (twelfth to eighteenth centuries) in the Kathmandu Valley, where one still finds elaborate occupational specializations and refined traditions of painting, wood carving, and metal casting. However, the availability of inexpensive market goods and exposure to new cultural values have caused a decline in these traditions.
Trade. Since Nepal is at the crossroads of central and southern Asia, trade has always been an important facet of the economies of many peoples in the region. The trade between Tibet and India supported, in part, the rise of the great city-states in the Kathmandu Valley and allowed a number of Newar merchants to become very wealthy. Control of this major, regional trading network in the eighteenth century permitted Prithivi Narayan Shah, the first Shah king, to conquer and unify the country. Today, trade is crucial for most households for they sell a part of their produce, usually rice and milk, for cash to buy needed market items such as cloth, matches, and kerosene. Certain ethnic groups have specialized subgroups, such as the Uray among the Newar and the Daffali among Muslims, who are merchants and bangle sellers, respectively. With the closing of the border with China and the end of the Tibetan salt trade, many of the northern groups famous as traders, such as the Thakali and Sherpa, have had to travel to southern Nepal to trade for needed supplies. However, largely in the Terai, Indian merchants control the import of raw and commercial goods that are needed in Nepal, and they likewise dominate capital investment in the country.
Division of Labor. There is division of labor among most groups in Nepal, but it is rigid for only a few activities. Generally, women do the bulk of the work in the fields and at home. In many groups, women till the soil, plant, weed, and harvest the crops. They also dry, winnow, and often husk grains. Women also cut grass and collect leaves for animals and carry water. If impoverished, they may also perform wage labor. In the house they cook, clean, and care for children. Unless from a wealthy family, girls receive little education beyond elementary school and so rarely hold commercial or civilservice jobs, although this situation is changing. In a number of groups widowed or divorced women engage in trade or shopkeeping. Men do the heavier agricultural labor of plowing the fields and fixing terraces and irrigation works, but they may also help women in their fieldwork if necessary. Men engage in most major economic transactions, such as buying and selling land, animals, and produce. Many men temporarily travel to work sites or join the army in Nepal or India to make cash needed by their households. It is increasingly common for men to seek employment as wage laborers if poor, or in commerce or government jobs if somewhat educated. Occupational castes specialize in certain tasks such as cutting hair, fishing, priestly work, or butchering, which is largely carried out by men.
Land Tenure. Almost all but the very poorest households own land. Land is classified according to its productive potential. In one classification, khet is land that is irrigated and is the most valuable. Bari is land that can be cultivated, but not irrigated. Pakho is land that cannot be cultivated for it is usually steep or rocky. There are a number of forms of land tenure in Nepal relating to individual households, lineage ownership, mutual-aid ownership, or land designated as gifts or payment to religious institutions or for government service. In the kipat system an individual has rights to land by virtue of membership in a lineage, although today only the Limbu are allowed to own this form of land. Gifts or payments of land by the government, though largely discontinued, still account for the ownership of large tracts of land and many landlord and tenant relationships. Most Nepalis possess land under the raikar system, in which the utilization and transfer of land is recognized by the government as long as taxes are paid on it.